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Service In China. Good Luck With That, Part II.

Posted in China Business, China Travel

The Seeing Red in China blog has a really funny post on service (actually the lack therof) in China, entitled, “Don’t expect customer service in China.” The post starts out describing a role playing game the blogger had his Chinese students play where one student was the hotel manager addressing the complaints of the hotel guest. It went something like this:

Guest: I’m sorry, but there is a mouse in my room, can you take care of it?

Manager: I don’t see any mouse in here. Why are you lying to me?

Guest: I’m not a liar. It’s under the bed, I just saw it. You should give me some discount for the room.

Manager: I knew it, you just want me to give you back some money. There is no mouse! My hotel is very clean! You are trying to cheat me!

Guest: No! You are cheating me!

Manager: GET OUT OF MY HOTEL!

Now if you have never been to China, you are probably thinking that something like that could never happen in real life. But if you have been to China, you are probably thinking, “so…?”

The post then lists a few of the blogger’s real life bad China service experiences and the comments are well worth reading for more. For more stories (and even some statistics) on China’s lack of a service culture, check out the following:

What’s happened to you?

 

  • John

    Suffice to say; “your mileage will vary.” If one know what they are doing (what your rights are), the problems you quote in your post, and the original authors service complaints, are easily resolved (assuming you speak Mandarin of course). I’ve lived here (in China) for 12 years. I travel within China 3 weeks out of 4. I don’t have these problems with hotels and restaurants. Perhaps I have been lucky but I don’t think so. Sure, there are instances where services is way less than adequate but that is true throughout the world.

  • Twofish

    It’s really bizarre since I’ve never had horrendously bad customer service in China, and overall the service that I’ve gotten is better than in the US.
    It may have something to do with the fact that I can read Chinese and there are a ton of websites that talk about hotel and restaurant quality.

  • Steve

    My favorite Chinese hotel story is when some Western friends of mine and I went to ChengdU for a couple of days. One of us chose a hotel from a website that included a swimming pool, tennis courts, Western breakfast, etc. The only thing western about the hotel was they provided a fork in the restaurant. The swimming pool had no water, the tennis courts were closed and there was no western food for breakfast, not even a cup of coffee. We all complained to the front desk about the deceptive advertising, but the clerk said that the manager was unavailable. After much shouting, complaining, and threats we finally received a message from the manager. Her words were that since we were not being charged for the swimming pool, the tennis courts, and the western food, there would not be a refund or credit of any kind. We were complaining about services that were free, so even if they did not exist our complaints were frivolous.

  • Pressley

    I read that study you linked to that ranked China next to the last in service in the world because I was trying to imagine a place with service worse than here. My friends and I are always joking about how bad the service is here and trying to outdo each other with bad service stories. My own personal favorite is when I ordered beef and the waitress brought chicken and when I complained she tried to claim it was beef and when I would not buy that, she talked about how much healthier it was. My Mandarin is perfect and so when these things happen to me, I never back down but still I have never gotten anyone to admit the mistake.
    Having lived in China for six years now, I have experienced just about every bad service possible or at least heard of every one and they no longer interest me. What interests me is trying to figure out why China’ s service is so bad and does not seem to be improving at all. The starting point is that the service people don’t care, but why is that? My own answer is because their employer’s treat them like such shit that they go to work angry and don’t care if they get fired because there is always another job. Do you agree with me on this?

  • Twofish

    Pressley: What interests me is trying to figure out why China’ s service is so bad and does not seem to be improving at all.
    What I’m trying to figure out is why I consistently get good service, and have never experienced the horror stories that people talk about. I’ve come up with these answers…
    1) The baselines are different. Most of my experiences in the US are in the NYC area, and most of my experiences in China are in the Pearl River Delta. NYC is well known for being unfriendly in the US (try to get argue with a hotel manager in Brooklyn), whereas the PRD is heavily influenced by Hong Kong and Macau, which are very service oriented.
    2) I do things differently in the US and China. In the US, when I want to book a hotel, I go online and find the cheapest hotel. In China, I either have a travel agent book a package, or I just get a list of hotels and then physically visit the hotels before checking in. Also I read forum comments on hotels (yes, I know it’s possible for people to fake post, but if a hotel cares enough to fake post something, then it means that they care and in any event I’m not going to check in until I get to the hotel).
    3) For restaurants, I go to a market where there are a lot of competing restaurants and go to crowded ones. If you have a street in which you have a dozen restaurants and the service is lousy people will go to another one.
    4) Also either I pay extra or I don’t. What works in the US is to go to a list of hotels online, pick the cheapest for a given level of service and stay there. I would think that this is a recipe for disaster in China, since if something is really, really cheap in China, it’s usually for a (bad) reason.
    Pressley: My own answer is because their employer’s treat them like such shit that they go to work angry and don’t care if they get fired because there is always another job. Do you agree with me on this?
    Most of the times when I eat out, I eat at a place where the person serving me is the manager or a relative of the manager.

  • http://www.researchondemand.com Steve

    In China, tips are not usually accepted so it is almost impossible to leave extra money on the table when you leave. Waiters will chase you down the street to give you back your change. And anyway, who wants to leave a tip in China?
    I went to my favorite restaurant one day to eat a bowl of noodles. After ordering, I paid the waiter in advance. I sat at a long table in the middle of the restaurant where people could sit by themselves instead of at a table. Sitting across from me in a booth was a grandmother with her small grandson, his mother, and another woman. Suddenly, the infant had to pee. The grandmother held up the boy and aimed at me as he shot a stream of piss in my direction. There was a pool of urine on the floor in front of me. I motioned to a waiter to have someone clean it up, but apparently it was not their job. So after staring at the yellow mess, I got up and went out the door disgusted. Apparently, the waiter saw me leave and knew I wouldn’t be back. She canceled my order before it was cooked, but she didn’t know what to do with the money I had already given her.
    I went back the next day, and without saying a word, the waiter brought a fresh bowl of noodles that I had ordered the previous day – no charge!

  • Glen

    If I saw a mouse in my room when staying in China, I would just be glad it wasn’t a rat. If I saw a rat, I would just be glad it wasn’t a snake. Etc., Etc.

  • Twofish

    One other thing is that I’ve consistently gotten excellent service at high end hotels and restaurants in Beijing. I think one of the reasons why is that when you look outside in at those hotels and restaurants you a parking lot full of black luxury Audis, and if you walk around those places you’ll see lots of athletic but slightly overweight middle aged men wearing dark polo shirts and dark dress slacks with a nice gold watch (i.e. the standard uniform of Party officials) and often they have at their side a middle aged woman that is elegantly dressed with a designer handbag, who is obviously trying (and not succeeding) in looking ten years younger than she is.
    So if you don’t look like a tourist, I’ve found that the service staff will treat you as if you were Hu Jintao’s son-in-law, because for all they know, you might be Hu Jintao’s son-in-law. That might not be such a good thing. In these high end places, you’ll have a cheerful manager walk around asking if everything is fine, and making small talk, but the wait staff and service people all seem to be avoiding eye contact and conversation and seem to be nervously walking on egg shells to the point that that I feel uncomfortable.
    One thing that I have seen in China that I’ve never seen in the US, is that it’s not uncommon in busy restaurants to see wait staff that look like they are about to collapse from exhaustion. Listen to the conversations, I’ve sometimes noticed that the service workers are getting rather irritable with their co-workers, and it’s obvious it’s because they’ve just been working for a very long period of time.

  • Twofish

    Another funny story about something that would never happen in the US…..
    Since we’ve been in the US often, my wife has been conditioned to give tips. So what happened was that we were in Shenzhen at a low-end Japanese ramen noodle chain. The bill came up to be 70 RMB, and my wife was in a generous mood so she handed the waitress a 100 RMB note and told her to keep the change.
    Rather than being happy and grateful the waitress took the 100 RMB note and spent an extraordinary long time trying to make sure that it wasn’t counterfeit (and she wasn’t hiding the fact that she was checking the bill, she was holding it to light, scratching the ink, etc. etc.). Since we weren’t counterfeiters and the bill was real she couldn’t find a reason for not accepting the money, but you could tell as we left that she was still suspicious that we were scamming her.
    Another China travel story. If you get off a bus station or train station, and you look like a non-local ethnic Chinese with money, you are going to be deluged by people offering you hotel, tours, taxi services, and I’ve found that I’ve had to be somewhat rude at telling them to go away.

  • Tim

    Twofish: It’s really bizarre since I’ve never had horrendously bad customer service in China, and overall the service that I’ve gotten is better than in the US.
    I have a rather hard time believing this and from your subsequent comments it appears that you are relying heavily on your experience at venues that cater to the privileged. The lack of proper service permeates not just restaurants or hotels in China – even the high-end providers suffer from serious service problems – but also professional services, property management, maintenance, retail, social services and host of other areas. It is a social problem that is gradually getting better but comparing China’s service level to a developed country does not lend itself to a real or meaningful discussion.
    After all, it is difficult to provide proper service if the people you expect to provide it have never experienced themselves.
    Twofish: Rather than being happy and grateful the waitress took the 100 RMB note and spent an extraordinary long time trying to make sure that it wasn’t counterfeit (and she wasn’t hiding the fact that she was checking the bill, she was holding it to light, scratching the ink, etc. etc.). Since we weren’t counterfeiters and the bill was real she couldn’t find a reason for not accepting the money, but you could tell as we left that she was still suspicious that we were scamming her.
    And this exemplifies one of the reasons why China struggles with service; it requires you to not be completely cynical. And I would suggest that many Mainland Chinese are still quite cynical (and I don’t blame them). Also, it requires a modicum of pride in your work and initiative that is not, with exceptions, encouraged here.
    We can go tit for tat on anecdotal evidence but what I find profound is the growth of maternity tourism. Wealthy Mainland Chinese are voting with their money and having their children abroad where they can receive better services for their children.

  • Angela Zhang

    @Tim – maternity and post natal care for mainland Chinese. Last time I looked Hong Kong was the main destination for that for wealthy Chinese, and the last time I looked Hong Kong was a Chinese city. “Oh but it doesn’t count” – BS.

  • Tim

    @Angela – Honk Kong is not a Mainland Chinese city. Hong Kong incidentally has had to institute a cap on Mainland birth tourism precisely because of the quality of services provided are far better than what is available on the Mainland:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=inMdaxWZ9EA